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  • Richard R. Fay, DC

Low Back Injuries and Spinal Instability

Updated: Aug 25


Low back injuries are the number one cause of chronic pain and disability in the world today. That’s right, more people suffer from low back problems than any other condition in the world. This means that almost all of us are affected by chronic low back pain – either we have it or someone we know has it. 

In addition to being the most common form of chronic pain, low back pain is also the most expensive condition on the injury market. In fact, it is more expensive than 300 other medical conditions and has a huge financial impact on those who suffer from it. According to the National Safety Council, the medical cost of caring for an injury is $42,000. That is simply an unsustainable number. 

So how do we lower the cost of caring for those with low back pain? By properly understanding the underlying cause of the pain. 




The Problem with Low Back Pain Diagnosis

The most common diagnosis of low back pain or injury is “nonspecific mechanical low back pain.” This means that the cause of the problem is a physical thing, but we don’t know for sure what that is.   Needless to say, that vague diagnosis is not helpful. This leads to astronomical medical costs because doctors don’t know what they are treating. 

Getting Specific with the Diagnosis

If we know what is causing low back pain or injuries, then we can specify treatment and get patients back to work and living a normal life faster and with less cost. This is good news for everyone.  So, what is the diagnosis?  Spinal instability.  Most doctors today do not understand spinal instability and it is costing millions of dollars a year. 


Understanding Low Back Ligaments


Spinal ligaments are not really that strong and their stability is dependent on the muscles that surround them. If you place a 10-pound weight on your chest, then you add 100 pounds of pressure on your lower back. If you push it 25 inches from your chest, then there is now 250 pounds of pressure on the lower back. That’s enough pressure of course to damage every single ligament in your spine. 

So why doesn’t your ligament get damaged right then and there? Because there is a coordinating system embedded in the ligaments called mechanoreptors that immediately recognize the pressure and causes the muscle system to instantaneous correction for stability need. However, when a ligament gets damaged, that system malfunctions. This leads to spinal instability.  Patients need doctors who understand spinal instability and how to diagnose it. DuPage Health and Physical Therapy can help patients identify and treat low back pain with a great deal of accuracy. 


How to Diagnose Spinal Instability 

Dr. Fay will refer you for specialized stress x-rays in order to correctly diagnose your injury. Stress X-rays are specialized x-rays that show intersegmental motion. Board certified medical radiologists can accurately measure for any motion problems directly from the stress x-rays.Once we have the intersegmental motion of each spinal motion unit imaged, Dr. Fay can then easily correlate with the patient’s examination findings and determine the level and the severity of any spinal ligament injury and any spinal instability that has been left behind and now causing the patient a great deal of trouble.  This of course leads to more accurate injury analysis and diagnosis so more responsive treatment can be promoted. 


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